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Ethical Man Gets Tempted
Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert. Because you are in Christ. That means you were there, too. And because Christ is in you, you too, can overcome temptation. Or can we?
Today’s book is “Tempted and Tried: Temptation and The Triumph of Christ” by Dr Russell Moore. Dr. Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Prior to his election in 2013, Moore served as the provost and dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also taught theology and ethics.
Now here is a man who teaches ethics and he becomes the president of the ethics Commission. So we might think that this highly ethical person might not understand the temptations that the everyday person faces. And, we would be wrong, because in the opening pages of this book, he shares a personal story, of him in a hotel lobby between him and an attractive receptionist while his wife and Children are outside in the rain. In this very short story, Moore shows us that he is a man subject to temptation, just like any of us. And more importantly, he shows that the temptation can strike in very subtle in ways that we do not realize, if we’re not careful.
In fact, that is why Dr Moore wrote this book. In an interview with Justin Taylor, Dr Moore answered that this book was a book for the Christian who wonders, why is it that after becoming a Christian, he is still subject to so many temptations? And maybe there’s something wrong with his faith because as a mature believer, temptation should go away, shouldn’t it? Dr Moore explains the struggle against temptation is part of the normal Christian life.
Another objective of this book was for Christians to be more precise in thinking about sin and temptation. There are those who are being tempted, who then despair and say, “I’m sinning”. In contrast, there are those who are sinning and delude themselves by saying, “I’m being tempted”. Actually, sin and temptation are two separate categories related but separate, and here in this book, Dr Moore helps us think more precisely about these terms.
Before, During and After the Desert
The way the book is structured is that you have the first two chapters that situate us in temptation. So, if you are a person who thinks that you suffer no temptation or you have a good grip on temptation, then the first two chapters will be humbling. On the other hand, if you think temptation is impossibly overwhelming for you and no one understands you, then the first two chapters will be very encouraging.
When we go into chapter two, we have it here written the baptism of Jesus, and this is an important chapter because it explains why Jesus is able to help us in our temptation. Here you have John the Baptist telling Jesus, “I should not be baptizing you. You should be baptizing me.” Jesus gave this very cryptic answer, he should be baptized by John “to fulfill all righteousness”. Its not so much that Jesus had to repent. Jesus never sinned so there was no repentance for sin. Instead Jesus had to be baptized because we had to, because we are the ones who need repentance. Because Jesus is our high priest, he is one of us. So by identifying himself with us, the incarnation, the truly God truly man, he helps us in our temptation because he has overcome.
Now it is critical we understand who Jesus is before we go into the heart of the book. Namely, the three temptations of Jesus in the desert. Chapter three, four and five are the Temptations. The first one is the turning of stones into bread. Then you have the devil taunting Jesus to jump so that the angels will catch him. And the last temptation is that Jesus should worship the devil in order to get all the kingdoms of the world.
The next chapter is how are we to think and practice what we have learned in the first five chapters. And some readers might be tempted to skip to read this chapter because you are facing temptation right now and you want to get some help. Immediate help. Well, that would not be a good idea, because chapter six is a practical application of earlier chapters. Meaning if you skip you will not understand how to apply what is stated in Chapter six.
We Are All Tempted and Tried
In this book review, I want to share three insights namely temptation, Satan and Jesus. And these insights span across the whole book. Throughout the whole book, Moore persuades us that all of our temptations in everywhere in every form, the temptations that we face in school, in home, in the office, whether you are a man or woman, whether you are born in Africa or in Tokyo, wherever you are in whatever place, whenever time, all of our temptations can be traced to the three temptations of Jesus in the desert. That is a big claim.
If you can see Jesus in the desert as fighting for you and knowing that Jesus has indeed face temptation that is common to all men, then you will see him as a person who understands where you are now, in whatever temptation you face. For example, Moore writes, the connection between food and sex. The desire for food and the desire for sex is connected. Now, this is not a novel observation. C. S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity made the same point. Commenting on sex, Lewis writes, “There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food. They would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interests of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.” Here, Lewis describes the striptease of food and shows the absurdity when it comes to us thinking about sex. Moore writes more food for thought. He elaborates that the desire for food and the desire for sex are God given desires which have been corrupted.
Psychology and Cover Up
Moore also writes about the temptation from the psychology of the person. He wants to show us how temptation works on us and how there is this risk that we will go into extremes. One of the extremes is where you think you are exceptional. Moore writes, “You start to see yourself as either special or as hopeless, and thus the normal boundaries don’t seem to apply. It might be that you are involved in certain patterns right now and that you would if asked, be able to tell me exactly why they are. They are morally and ethically wrong. It’s not that you are deficient in the cognitive ability to diagnose the situation. It’s instead that you slowly grow to believe that your situation is exceptional. I am a God. And then you find all kinds of reasons why this technically isn’t theft or envy or hatred or fornication or abuse of power or whatever.”
When I read , I thought of Ravi Zacharias, the name behind the biggest sex scandal of 2021. If you have read the reports, Ravi does think that he is exceptional. Even as he goes out and talks about the goodness of God behind the scenes, he is inflicting much pain and hurt to many women. So this book, written 10 years ago, helps us to understand and interpret current events, whether it’s Ravi Zacharias, the apologist to millions who falls from grace or your church member who is caught or entangled in some other scandal.
Do you remember how you responded to the sex scandals or to any scandal in the church? Were you dismayed at the damage this did to Christianity? Now listen to this, Moore writes: “The demonic powers not only will give us what we crave, but they will assist us in covering it over, for a little while. That’s precisely the irony. Often you are fueled on from one temptation to the other because you haven’t been caught. This gives you an illusion of a cocoon protecting you from justice. The powers, though, don’t want you to get caught—not yet, not this early in the march to the slaughterhouse. They don’t have a mere seventy or eighty years to live. They are ancient and patient and quite willing to wait until your downfall will bring with it the most catastrophic consequences—for you, for your family, for the kingdom of God, and to the image of Christ you carry. So they’ll help you cover it all up, and then they’ll expose you—mercilessly.”
So we see here the nature of the spiritual warfare that the enemy is willing to help us cover up until we reach the end of the slaughterhouse. This slaughterhouse metaphor is used very powerfully in Moore’s writing in chapter two, and here we can see the way Moore portrays Satan.
Clash of Samurais
He portrays him as the ancient cunning power. Satan is not a comic with a pitchfork and a tail. Nor is he a buffoon that gets easily outmatch and outwitted by Jesus in the desert. We see here that there is real spiritual warfare between the believer and the devil, and we can see this exemplified in the spiritual warfare between Jesus and Satan in the desert. There is real temptation at stake.
The problem with the temptation in the desert is that we don’t understand what happened. It’s kind of like when you watch a Formula One and you see that the lead driver enters the pit. Why did he go into the pit? Because we don’t understand the rules of the sport. Or we watch a movie and we see that there is one big monster fighting another big monster. What’s happening? Who is the good guy and who’s the bad guy? We don’t know, because maybe began the movie halfway through. So if we don’t understand the rules or the story, we cannot make sense of it.
Imagine you’re watching a Japanese samurai movie. And on the right, you see the Black Samurai coming. He is undefeated. He has killed millions of warriors and there is blood on his blade. And on the left you see the White Samurai who has just completed his meditation and he is weak from fasting for 40 days and 40 nights.
The two warriors clash. The Black Samurai slashes for the gut. Jesus deflects. The devil aims for the legs. Jesus deflects once more. Lastly, the devil aims for the heart and Jesus in the very last second manages to deflect the blade and the Black Samurai rides and runs off, fleeing from the White.
That scene is not in the desert writings on the temptation when we read in the Gospels. But here’s the problem. The reason why we cannot fully understand the desert temptation is because it happened too fast, and what we needed was to have some background to understand who is the Black Samurai. Who is the White Samurai? Or rather, who is the devil and who is Jesus? And this is where Dr Moore helps us. He draws the context from Deuteronomy so that when the two of them exchange Bible verses, Dr Moore shows us the power and the meaning behind it.
He portrays the devil not as being outwitted so easily by Jesus, who is able to respond with a better Bible verse. But instead the devil knows the desires of Jesus and knowing the desires of Jesus, the devil delivers a very precise and powerful blow to Jesus, which Jesus should not have been able to deflect.
But Jesus knows who he is. He is the Son of God. His relationship with God, the father is pure. He is the Son of Man. He fully stands with and stands for the children of Adam. The devil has always been able to tempt all the children of Adam to sin. He has never failed. And he did tempt Jesus.
Do you know what is at stake here? If Jesus was tempted by Satan to sin in any one way, we would all fall. The atonement requirement for a perfect sacrifice would never be met. How would you tempt a beggar with a little money? How would you tempt the King with a great amount of money? How would you attempt the son of God? If we see through the desert temptations how tempted Jesus really was, we can appreciate and marvel that Satan failed.
Jesus was tempted, but he did not fall for temptation. Jesus never sin. He knew he will get all the kingdoms of the world. But it will be from the hand of God, the Father, not Satan.
I Am Your Father, Jesus
I don’t know what you think about that paragraph, and I want to assure you that Dr. Moore does write more about it and that he does give good evidence and good support for it. After some reflection, (and this is after being convinced the first time I read it because I thought it was a very interesting and counter-intuitive insight) I disagree.
The traditional idea is that the devil wanted Jesus to act independently.
I don’t think the devil wants to be a father. What do you think is a father? What comes to mind for me, it means the father is self sacrificial. He loves, he wants to care, and all that motivates the father. That’s that’s what I think. And that’s not true of the devil. So the actions may seem to be like so and I realized that the devil is an imposter and he he does try to be the ruler of the world and be a spoiler. I’m convinced that the devil wants to steal Jesus from God. I’m convinced that the devil wants to steal the father’s glory, but I wouldn’t put the emphasis so much that the devil was wants to be a father to Jesus. I don’t think the devil cares. And in that sense, I don’t think he can be a father.
I guess my point of difference is the way I interpret the word father and the way Moore over here adapts it to his claim. Now, having said that, this claim is not the whole book so Moore doesn’t keep pushing this idea to the reader. In fact, it is just an observation made out of the various chapters and scriptures. But it’s not something that you need to to believe in order to accept all the other conclusions, meaning you can still hold on to the traditional understanding that Satan was trying to get Jesus to act independently and set himself up as God himself.
Help Me Overcome
So let us look into this question: Will this book help me overcome my temptation? I believe many people will reach out for this book because of that. And the trite answer is no. And no book can help you. Only Jesus can. And in that sense, this book is good because it points you always to who Jesus is, to understand the temptation, how he overcomes it, who Jesus is and who we are in him, the truly God truly man. So all that actually helps strengthen our understanding of temptation and sin.
The deeper answer is trying to understand what you mean by overcome temptation. If you mean overcome temptation to mean that you will have no such experience, no tugging of the heart, no struggle, no fight, then no, this book will not help you. And as Dr Moore earlier wrote, that is not what this book intends to achieve. You will and should struggle with temptation. That’s part of normal Christianity. But this book will help you fight the fight.
This book is very good, especially in the second last chapter to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfort. It overcomes any excuses you may have regarding temptation. And he makes very clear the difference between temptation and sin.
Are there any other books that may help you in this when you go into? I searched in Amazon, and I searched for the word temptation. There are two categories of books. First category is what we’re looking at today. And there is one author that comes up prominently, which is John Owen. So John Owen is a Puritan writer, and he has written extensively, deeply on temptation and on sin. Other than John Owen, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of other authors or books on this topic.
The other category, when you look for temptation, is the trashy novels, and you want to avoid that in every way possible.
You don’t have a wealth of library or resources on temptation and sin. Whereas if you compare with a search on grace or blessing or goodness, you will have multiple books by multiple authors throughout the ages. So I just want to make a comment here that if your understanding of sin is weak, then your understanding of grace is also weak. You need to understand sin in order to understand grace. Now this book is not about sin. This book is about temptation. So when you read this book, you will understand the differences between sin and temptation.
And it’s important because a confusion here can bring a brother or sister down. And that’s why this book is good for teachers and counselors, even parents or anybody who is any position to advise people on temptation. And I would say that that would be everybody. So this book helps to encourage those who are struggling with temptation and at the same time warns us not to indulge in temptation to sin.
But let’s say you are one of the few who have read John Owen, all of John Owen. And let’s say that you clearly understand the differences between sin and temptation. You also understand sin and grace in terms of the gospel. So you understand all these things. Is this book still worth reading? I say the answer is yes, simply because it is well written. Every reviewer I read says that this book is well written, and Jared Wilson from Gospel Coalition writes this way: “And I was stirred to fight my own temptations to writerly envy at his deft phrasing and moving composition.”
And I agree. Dr. Moore just pulls you in. Every thought exercise makes you wonder. Every story he shares has you engaged. And it’s just a wonderful, well written book, a great resource for the church and one that I think that every Christian should read. So I I would like to end by just showing an example of the writing and also the conviction that can come out of reading this book. This passage explains the relationship between temptation, Jesus and the Devil, the demonic forces. So let me read it: “Ultimately, the agony of temptation is not about you or me. We’re targeted because we resemble Jesus, our firstborn brother. We all, whether believers or not, bear some resemblance to Jesus because we share with him a human nature in the image of God. As we come to find peace with God through Jesus, we begin a journey of being conformed more and more into the image of Christ. The demons shriek in the increasing glory of that light, and they’ll seek even more frenetically to put it out of their sight.”
The demons shriek in the increasing glory of the light of Jesus. I had a picture in my head when I read that.
Today’s book is “Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ” by Dr Russell Moore.